As the State Pension Age rises and people are being encouraged to work for longer, more and more employers (and the public too) are going to have to change their perceptions of older workers. Instead of believing the negative stereotypes and considering that older workers are likely to be less effective at certain jobs than their younger colleagues, perceptions need to change to recognise that each person is an individual with different skills and capabilities.
I came back from a short break in Catalonia, Spain, last week, where I learned about a common thread through the Catalonian culture: the ‘feina ben feta’ –or ‘work well done’.
I read about a local artistic movement by the turn of the last century which made of the quest for properly accomplished tasks one of its leitmotivs. In the park surrounding the monastery of Montserrat I came upon the monument to Joan Maragall, a poet, which includes the following call: “Strive in your endeavour as if the salvation of humanity depended upon each detail you think, each word you say, each piece you assemble, each blow of your hammer. Because it does depend on them, believe me”.
The following day I watched a programme on national TV about Teodoro Gómez. Mr Gómez takes the bus to work every morning. Nothing unusual here. He works at an industrial bakery set up by his grandfather –again, not uncommon for a long-standing family-run business. He weighs each baguette, for either the needle in the scale has to stop at 230 grams exactly or they are not sold. Well, a good example of ‘feina ben feta’ you might say, but still not much to make it on national TV.
One of his grandsons runs the ‘cakes and buns’ department and one of his granddaughters is in charge of one of the retail outlets. Grandson? Granddaughter? Oh, yes, for I forgot to mention that Teodoro is 100 years old. He still loves passing on his wealth of experience and expertise to the younger generations (some of his great-grandsons are already part of the staff). And not just his experience and expertise, but his values and work ethos too.
I came back from Spain with a whole new perspective of my own work. It goes beyond professionalism. It goes beyond doing proficiently what is expected. Señor Gómez is not from Catalonia, but he rolls his kneading pin as if human life as we know it depended on it. I want to be part of his bunch.
Back in the UK, there are increasing numbers of people working past their State Pension Age. As pension values declines and the State Pension Age goes up, the longer-term trend will almost certainly be for more people to stay in work. Of course, most people won’t want to work until 100, but as we may have to work longer that expected it is essential to break down such negative stereotypes, especially that older workers will not perform as well.
Do you know of any British Teodoro’s? I would love to know about them, and perhaps they could even help Age UK to get this message across. What a privilege it would be to meet them.